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July 25, 2019
Notes from the Pentagon

Rubio on Huawei
Sen. Marco Rubio is confident that Congress will codify in law Trump administration restrictions imposed on China’s telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies, a company the Florida Republican says poses a national security threat to the United States.

Huawei, which was sanctioned by the administration in May, is “an instrument of state power” for China, Mr. Rubio told Inside the Ring.

The senator is among a bipartisan group in Congress that recently introduced legislation in both the Senate and House that would permanently impose a Commerce Department ban on sales of U.S. semiconductors and other items to Huawei.

President Trump signed an executive order in May imposing curbs on the use of any foreign adversary equipment by U.S. telecommunications companies and severely limited Huawei’s business by placing the company on the Commerce Department’s entities list. Designation on the list requires obtaining an export license for any exports to Huawei with a presumption of denial.

Mr. Trump, under pressure from both China and American technology companies, has signaled that he is willing to back off the tough sanctions on Huawei.

According to Mr. Rubio, China has made lifting the sanctions a major element of the ongoing trade talks with the United States.

“What I hear is that it is the first issue the Chinese raise in negotiations and the last one they bring up before they walk out,” Mr. Rubio said. The White House announced Wednesday that the stalled trade talks will resume Tuesday in Shanghai.

Mr. Rubio said many in Congress — both Republicans and Democrats — support codifying the sanctions in law.

“I have no doubt that if the administration were to backtrack and remove [Huawei] from the entities list, that the votes exist for a veto-proof majority in both the House and Senate to reverse that,” Mr. Rubio said.

In the Senate, upwards of 70 senators favor putting the Huawei sanctions into law, he estimated.

Mr. Rubio said China’s pressure on the administration to lift sanctions on its main telecommunications company could ultimately derail efforts to reach a trade deal with Beijing.

Huawei has “attributes of a private company, but it is without doubt a ‘national champion’ of the Chinese government that is seeking to dominate 5G [data networks] across the world,” he said.

Mr. Rubio also said Huawei is linked to Chinese intelligence-gathering operations and the company under Chinese law is required to turn over any information gathered by its extensive equipment located around the world.

“They both cheat when it comes to international commerce, and they are a tool of state espionage and state interests that run counter to our national interest,” he said.

Several nongovernmental technical reports made public in recent months have highlighted methods used by Huawei to place “back doors” into its equipment that could facilitate Chinese spying.

The company also can introduce malicious software into its equipment through software updates, Mr. Rubio said.

Huawei founder and chief executive Ren Zhengfei has denied that the company is engaged in spying or that it is required to provide information to Chinese intelligence.

“I don’t think Huawei is a company that should be allowed to operate in America, nor should our businesses be able to sell semiconductors or any of the other basic components that they need to continue to carry on the operations that they are doing,” Mr. Rubio said.

Mr. Rubio said “various camps” within the administration favor and oppose the Huawei sanctions. Pro-trade officials want to reach a deal with the Chinese and thus are willing to negotiate away the curbs.

A national-security-oriented group inside the administration agrees with those in Congress who want to target the Chinese company.

“So, ultimately, the president will have to decide which camp he sides with,” Mr. Rubio said, adding that “we have a Congress that’s pretty dug in on this.”

Army Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, is modernizing an intelligence database used by analysts that is more than 20 years old.

Gen. Ashley told a security conference in Colorado last week that a system called Machine-Assisted Analytic Rapid Repository System, or MARS, is being developed over the next couple of years. The high-priority system is needed to deal with the buildup of both Chinese and Russian military forces and is being designed to use artificial intelligence — the ability of computers to think and learn.

The system will allow analysts to simulate courses of action that will assist war fighters in rapidly gauging the effects of planned operations.

“Developing artificial intelligence is it’s solving problems,” Gen. Ashley said. “It is creating decision space. It is allowing analysts to spend time doing analysis and not having to do a lot of just rigorous kinds of work.”

Additionally, AI will provide analysts with insights that may not be seen by humans because of the ability of advanced computers to aggregate information and use large databases for spying on foreign militaries and other military-related targets.

“So artificial intelligence, machine learning is integral to what we do from an analytics standpoint,” the three-star general said.

The MARS system will replace the current Modernized Integrated Database, or MIDB, that Gen. Ashley described as “where all that foundational intelligence is.”

“That database is 1996. It is not AI-ready. It’s not machine learning ready, and it does not scale to really create an information environment to allow us to not only archive all that information about those foreign militaries and the operational environment, but by applying artificial intelligence, computer vision, we can have a much richer, deep information environment with all that data in there,” he said.

The new database will update itself automatically without humans in the loop.

An example of how the database will be used could be a search for the locations of all hospitals in a target area to avoid accidental strikes or attacks.

“OK, well, for a person to do that and look at imagery, go through that, you might be able to do thousands of images in the period of a year by applying computer vision — what we’re doing right now,” Gen. Ashley said.

Artificial-intelligence-powered databases will be able to sift through millions of images much more rapidly and help identify all hospitals within a specific target area.

“And so that’s the kind of scaling that these tools are going to bring to us,” he said.

The Air Force has asked American defense contractors to seek contracts for an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) needed to replace the aging Minuteman III arsenal of land-based strategic missiles.

According to Air Force public affairs officials, the request for proposals are for the new Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), as the new ICBM is called. Boeing and Northrop Grumman will compete for the contract that the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center hopes to award in the fall of 2020.

The missile will replace the Minuteman III, which was first built in the mid-1960s and, with upgrades, has operated over 50 years of operation.

“If you look at the threat that we face, Russia just completed their modernization of their triad this year because they know they cannot defeat us — and certainly can’t defeat NATO — conventionally,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein told Congress in April.

“So our modernization and recap of the triad is just in time because in the missile leg, key parts of that program expire right about the time that we bring on the new Ground Based Strategic Deterrent to replace it.”

No details of the new missile were disclosed, but it is expected to be a system capable of withstanding threats such as cyberattacks and laser attacks.

The Air Force missile is expected to be deployed in the existing silos of the Minuteman III. However, as reported in this space in 2015, the service revealed in a contract proposal from 2013 that it was considered a new missile that could also be deployed on road-mobile transporter erector launchers or on rail-mobile launchers.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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